BANGKOK — Citing “flickers of progress” in Myanmar’s political climate, President Obama announced Friday that he was sending Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on a visit next month, the first by a secretary of state in more than 50 years.
The decision was announced in Bali,Indonesia, where nations from Southeast Asia were meeting on Friday with leaders from across the Pacific Rim, including the United States, China and Japan.
“For decades Americans have been deeply concerned about the denial of basic human rights for the Burmese people,” Mr. Obama said. “The persecution of democratic reformers, the brutality shown toward ethnic minorities and the concentration of power in the hands of a few military leaders has challenged our conscience and isolated Burma from the United States and much of the world.”
But he added that “after years of darkness, we’ve seen flickers of progress in these last several weeks” as the president and Parliament in Myanmar have taken steps toward reform.
“Of course there’s far more to be done,” Mr. Obama said.
The decision to send Mrs. Clinton came as Myanmar took another step away from its diplomatic isolation on Thursday when its neighbors agreed to let the country, which had been run for decades by the military, take on the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2014.
Myanmar has long coveted the rotating chairmanship of the organization, known as Asean. The country renounced its turn in 2006 in the face of foreign pressure over human rights abuses.
“It’s not about the past, it’s about the future, what leaders are doing now,” the Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, told reporters in Bali about the chairmanship. “We’re trying to ensure the process of change continues.”
Myanmar inaugurated a new civilian system this year after decades of military rule. The new government, led by a former general, Thein Sein, has freed a number of political prisoners, taken steps to liberalize the nation’s heavily state-controlled economy and made overtures to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel laureate who was released from house arrest last year.
In a telephone conversation flying from Australia to Indonesia, Mr. Obama sought assurances from Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi before approving the visit and she “confirmed that she supports American engagement to move this process forward,” Mr. Obama said.
Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party won elections in 1990, but the result was ignored by the military. Her party, the National League for Democracy, has said it will decide on Friday whether to rejoin the political system after having been de-listed as a party by the junta.